Module 102 The Nuclear Fuel Cycle
Depleted uranium typically is cast into ingots or
billets, and then shipped to production facilities for
Reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel is no longer
performed in this country. This information is
provided for the purpose of describing how the
process worked at applicable facilities.
Uranium was used in plutonium production reactors.
Uranium fuel and targets were coated with
aluminum or zirconium metal and placed in the
reactor. As they were irradiated with neutrons, a
small fraction of the uranium was converted to
plutonium. The irradiated fuel was then removed
from the reactor, but the plutonium and uranium had
to be separated from the fission products created
PUREX, a chemical process for plutonium and
uranium extraction from irradiated nuclear fuel, was
developed to accomplish this separation. This
reprocessing was accomplished as follows:
a. Excess metal was mechanically removed to
expose the fuel material.
b. The fuel was leached with acid to remove it
from the cladding.
c. The uranium and other elements were separated
by solvent extraction (chemical separation).
d. The uranium was converted back to UF6 for